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Lee Ranaldo - Maelstrom From Drift

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Artist: Lee Ranaldo

Album: Maelstrom From Drift

Label: Three Lobed

Review date: Aug. 28, 2008

Thurston Moore has always been the guy who gets around, jamming with free jazz heavies or making noise with youngsters half his age, but Lee Ranaldo, his mate in Sonic guitar battery, has also been a consistent (if less prodigious) source of compelling audio documents. Veering from near-industrial loops of pealing feedback and heavy guitar to intimate pairings of acoustic guitar and poetry, Ranaldo’s catalog is one of satisfying diversity. Maelstrom From Drift, the guitarist’s latest, is a microcosm of Ranaldo’s catalog as a whole, a collection that spans 11 years, a variety of collaborators, and a sundry mix of approaches and sounds.

Available only as part of Three Lobed’s Oscillation III subscription series, Maelstrom From Drift gives a wide-angle look at Ranaldo’s work over the past decade. The disc includes group improvisation with Tony Buck (drums) and David Watson (bagpipes), live recordings, home studio projects, and even a recording session undertaken with Ranaldo’s partner, Leah Singer, and a collection of Cal Arts students in 2004. Each track provides a new sound, but the disc is largely bereft of conventional beauty, save the plaintive piano of “The Homeless Hairdresser.” Maelstrom From Drift focuses more on Ranaldo as improviser and sound arranger than his work as a songwriter, jutting into realms not often heard in his oeuvre. The transition from one track to another can be jarring; the celestial “Afternoon Saints” segues into the goofy explorations of “Cal Arts Tuesday Night Session,” and the crickets and ambience of “Navel Milk Poison” are noisily abutted by “Spkr Test (Sudden Infant)” and its distorted roughage. In fact, to convince an unsuspecting listener that each track on the album was the product of a different musician wouldn’t take much effort.

Maelstrom From Drift’s title track, culled from a multi-channel audio installation Ranaldo created in 2004, is the disc’s most readily identifiable with the musician’s standard approach, a crowded mélange of what sound like guitars, layered to create an beautiful, atmospheric din. This disc changes faces so frequently that the track is a satisfyingly focused closer, a single-minded statement amidst other, more scattered efforts. Lee Ranaldo proved himself long ago a musician comfortable in any number of settings, but on the unpredictable procession of Maelstrom From Drift’s nine tracks, it’s the more focused music that finds him at his best.

By Adam Strohm

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